Former news director recalls difficulties dealing with Va. shooter

Dan Dennison

A day after two of their colleagues were shot and killed on live television, WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, started its Thursday morning newscast remembering the victims.

Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were doing their jobs when they were killed by a former colleague. The man who pulled the trigger was caught by Ward’s camera and the gunman even posted video of the shooting from his perspective on his social media accounts.

KHON2 spoke to the man who hired and fired the gunman Vester Flanagan, who went by the professional name of Bryce Williams, from the Roanoke TV station.

“My heart just bleeds for the families of those two really great decent people,” said Dan Dennison.

Dennison knew both Parker and Ward. Parker was an intern when he was a news director at WDBJ and Ward had been promoted to a morning photographer.

Dennison now works for the State Department of Land and Natural Resources and he shared his feelings about Flanagan.

“To me, it just seems that he is pure evil,” Dennison said. “He was just an evil, evil individual.”

Dennison said he hired Flanagan in 2012. Two months later, a co-worker reported that she felt threatened after Flanagan started screaming at the top of his lungs inside the station’s live remote truck. He was then required to go to counseling.

“That was really the first time we had any indication, at the very least, he had a hair-trigger temper.”

Flanagan was originally hired because he appeared to be an energetic person and there were no red flags during his background check. All his references gave him good recommendations.

But Dennison said Flanagan filed numerous complaints about racial discrimination. All claims were investigated and found completely baseless.

“At one point, he said to me ‘you think I’m a nice guy, but I have a dark side that you are not aware of,’ and he threw a newspaper article, rather yellowed at that point, on my desk, and it was from a Tallahassee newspaper, and it detailed him winning an out-of-court settlement from one of his previous employers based on a racial discrimination claim.”

Dennison fired Flanagan for performance issues in 2013. “He threw a cross at me prior to him being escorted out of the building by the police. It was a little wooden cross, I recall. He basically said ‘you are going to need this.'”

When asked if he felt personally threatened, Dennison said “personally, I didn’t, but the station manager suggested I have a police escort out of the building, and that was the first and only time I had a police officer walk me to my car that day.”

Dennison said it was one of the most challenging times in his career and that WDBJ was under 24/7 security for a week after Flanagan was fired.

The Roanoke Police Department provided information about the incident on February 1, 2013 to our sister station WSLS that corroborates Dennison’s account of the day Flanagan was fired.

An officer responded to a disorder call at the station on that date at 9:07 a.m. Upon arrival, a WDBJ7 supervisor told the officer that a recently terminated employee, Vester Lee Flanagan II, was refusing to leave and was becoming disorderly.

The officer spoke with Flanagan, who was seated in a chair and attempting to place calls on a company phone. The officer advised Flanagan that he needed to leave the property.

Flanagan began to leave the building, and as he was exiting, yelled “Ya’ll are white trash mother [expletive]!.” He threw a ball cap and said “And you can keep this piece of [expletive].”

Flanagan asked that he be provided a letter of termination. The officer walked with Flanagan to the parking lot, where Flanagan waited in his personal car until he was provided paperwork associated with his termination.

Flanagan then left the property with no other issues, police say.

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